On Saturday, January 27, 2024, Colorado Politics reported that the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a Weld County judge went too far in ordering a murder defendant to reveal all evidence implicating another suspect to prosecutors.

The case involved the 1979 murder of Evelyn “Kay” Day in Greeley, Colorado, which went unsolved for over 40 years. In 2021, James Herman Dye was charged with Day’s murder after a DNA break in the case. However, Dye’s defense argued that Day’s husband, Chuck Day, who had long been a suspect, was actually responsible.

The judge overseeing Dye’s case, Judge Marcelo A. Kopcow, originally said prosecutors were already aware the defense planned to shift blame to Chuck Day. However, in early 2023 Judge Kopcow changed course and ordered Dye to disclose all evidence regarding Chuck Day as an alternate suspect 45 days before trial. Dye appealed this ruling directly to the Colorado Supreme Court, arguing it infringed on his right to due process and other protections by giving prosecutors access to his entire defense.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court declined to fully endorse Dye’s argument but said an order to hand over “all evidence” was too broad. The court noted defendants must identify any alternate suspects and disclose the addresses of any alternate suspects who would testify. However, it is then up to prosecutors to conduct their own investigation, not have access to the entire defense case.

After Kay Day’s murder initially went unsolved, investigators linked her husband Chuck Day’s DNA to her body in 2011. Additional DNA and circumstantial evidence later implicated Dye. Ahead of Dye’s trial, prosecutors argued they wanted to avoid being “ambushed” with alternate suspect evidence at trial, and that’s why they sought disclosure of any evidence implicating Chuck Day.

The Supreme Court was not convinced by prosecutors’ arguments. While judges need time to review alternate suspect evidence disputes before trial, simply requiring disclosure of a defendant’s entire defense case is improper. The order could not allow “the prosecution to embark upon a fishing expedition.” Since Judge Kopcow’s order to disclose all evidence regarding Chuck Day was deemed “overbroad,” the Supreme Court overturned it.

The ruling clarified that in criminal cases, the parties will generally know before trial if an alternate suspect defense will be used. It is appropriate for judges to resolve any disputes over related evidence ahead of time, but broad orders giving prosecutors access to a whole defense case violate a defendant’s rights.



Source: Colorado Politics